Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

I had another of those non-coincidences today. While learning some of my own self-lessons in what "Obedience to God" means, I was also viewing a terrible blowout between two of my dearest blogfriends. Both of them have been instrumental in bringing me to the blogosphere; so to have such an awful fight between them is saddening. I found it rather interesting that this was going on at a time I am learning a new part of my own "secular monasticism"--that learning to listen to God (the root word of the word "obedience" is from the Old French word "to listen") is a type of free choice.

Christopher Jamison's book, "Finding Sanctuary" is a wonderful tool for this. He points out that in this culture, we often brag that "we are free to choose," yet the choices we make, even down to what to wear, are often dictated by hidden and unspoken agendas. To recognize this, to realize what we are actually obeying, in these circumstances, is a form of freedom that is, in many ways, counterculture.

Here are the parts of his chapter on "obedience" that really caught my attention.

“The monastic tradition believes that obedience is potentially the greatest expression of human freedom...obeying something unknowingly is not free choice. So the first criterion for a good obedience is that I must know what I am choosing to obey. Second, I must choose those things that open up future possibilities, not those things that enslave me.”

“In essence, what Benedict is describing (in the Rule of Benedict) is the exercise of conscience. Conscience is not the same as feeling; conscience is the inner process that enables you to listen to voices beyond your own feelings and desires...intense feeling is not the same thing as conscience. The monastic way urges the conscientious exercise of choice leading to obedient freedom.”

He then goes on to talk about several things that we often claim we are being “free to choose” but we are really choosing this hidden or unspoken agenda. He describes our selves as a sanctuary where virtue is the door, silence and meditation as the floor-covering to dampen the noise, obedience as the walls—walls that simultaneously dampen external noise, "restrain our selfish voices, and amplify the voice of God"—and humility as the roof.

He quotes Thomas Merton with “In order to become myself, I must cease what I thought I always wanted to be.”

But that whole chapter really hooked me. We place so much stock in this culture in “ambition.” We place a lot of stock in “self-expression.” But it dawned on me that the more we “self-express” by the world’s definition, whether it’s in relationships or possessions, or ambition, various lusts, or desires that we actually IMPOSE on others. We demand affections that can only be freely given, we seize what does not belong to us, and we measure our worth by what others do not have. Ewwwg. Ouch.

That is also kind of tricky for “mechanical minded me” who wants to grab everything and take it apart and play with all the pieces. It’s not wrong to learn that way, but it’s wrong to do that at the expense of imposing on others, or grabbing what does not belong to you or taking without asking, what you should ask permission.

This is my comment on my own self-revelations regarding a totally unrelated matter. But it strikes me heavily how it applies in so many ways to the blowout between my blogfriends, and the willingness of people to "take sides" and the source of many hurt feelings. Fascinating.


¨We demand affections that can only be freely given, we seize what does not belong to us, and we measure our worth by what others do not have¨

I think you´ve got that down nicely. Of course, knowing it and keeping in the REAL regarding true humility is a bit cumbersome when I´ve flown the coop and start with the insisting and demanding from others. YOU MUST understand me (no matter the topic).

What I noticed, recently, was deep, and unresolved, emotional pain screaming ¨but, you don´t understand, my case is different/how dare you not pay enough notice of me¨...I´ve known that kind of reaction in my own life, misunderstood in my desire to show SINCERE love/concern...I get mad! As if my very life depended on me winning senseless arguments or making others understand sensitive ¨points¨ of what I really ¨intend.¨ I´m feeling desperately lost or frustrated and NOBODY UNDERSTANDS ME...besides, I´m embarrassed and it´s getting worse! YOU must NOT know the depth of my insecurity (anyway, especially if it pops out for all to see), I SCREAM so you will notice my best intentioned integrity! Don´t you SEE? It´s all about me!

Anyway, that´s what I think and I relate.

One thing you wrote about the TRUST part was not to have TRUST fecklessly...I agree, life isn´t simply a free-for-all and I can make choices that sometimes include not knowing answers and praying my ¨questions¨ will be handled appropriately by a power far greater than me.

Nice post, M. I will be pondering it for the rest of the afternoon at least. Particularly the false freedom of choice when you are unaware of what you are obeying.

Thanks, fellows. Leonardo, you are SO right. When I feel deeply hurt, I get all St. Jerome-ish. St. Jerome used to fire off letters to his friends that were basically "I bust my butt and bend over backwards for you, and love you to death and you don't love me the way I think I need to be loved, you ungrateful so-and-so!" LOL

I catch myself doing that verbally. But yes, the language of "You can't possibly know how I feel" is very common in those sorts of scenarios. Learning real humility means to also learn an acceptance that we are loved, even if on some days it feels like it's only by God.

Yet we all will, in our own ways, cling to senseless arguments and try to protect our masks of invulnerability. What a tangled web we weave!

I have no idea what y'all are talking about ;~)

Elizabeth, you are such a rascal.

Keep in mind I am speaking about myself here in this comment, but I do know this about myself: I am a very accomplished and inventive curser, as are many of us who came from edgy and tenuous working class backgrounds. But when I am the most wounded, the most afraid, the most deeply torn apart, the inventiveness of my cursing disappears and it simply becomes a spew of epithets.

I recognize in myself when I have moved to that level, I am really transmitting my vulnerability through the back door! I am being bound and determined to not let someone see how badly I've been hurt, yet my absolute inarticulate-ness betrays me.

Thanks for a mind and soul opening insight.

Oh, Kirke, my sins are ever before me and I know them only too well, but having my private thoughts displayed in cyberspace for the precise purpose of starting a cyberwar was such a deep betrayal, I fear I will never fully recover. Then again, with God's help, all things are possible.

Thanks for this essay. It's brilliant.

Elizabeth, I have this feeling maybe part of our bond is "the same set of sins?" LOL

I know I am this outwardly gregarious person that hides a HUGE amount of privacy and introversion. Things people think, "Oh, Kirke can handle that" can be actually deeply betraying and make me feel incredibly abandoned.

You are clearly onto something there, Kirke.



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I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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